The New York Times just did a piece on the grabbing and grappling that goes on under the surface during the very tough sport of water polo. It’s rough down there. Water polo athletes are amazing aerobic machines, constantly jockeying for position, levering their bodies high out of the water for shots, and fighting through opposing blockers and grabbers. The submerged WWE matches that occur are all just part of the game to the players. But, all that underwater strategizing was one of the reasons I once took the entire 2000 version of the U.S. women’s water polo below the surface for a portrait. It was a hoot.
I’ve got a huge, huge American flag I’ve used at the behest of Sports Illustrated, LIFE and National Geographic many times. So, I simply took the flag and put it in the pool, and let the team get creative. The above ran as a two page spread in SI.
Lighting this type of scene is simple in terms of structure, but daunting in terms of volume. To do this, I laid down a 20’x20′ silk on a frame right over the water. How you do this is to sand bag the hell out of the frame corners resting on the deck, and then tie rope to the far corners. Those ropes run up to high rollers, again thoroughly sand bagged. You basically construct a primitive pulley system and just gently lower this huge diffuser down to where it is inches about the water line. Then you pump six 2400ws units through it. I used Speedotrons out of the SI bank of gear for this. Underwater, you trigger the whole mess with a flash running off of your underwater camera. That lights up a slave eye that is dangling at water’s edge. That, in turn, fires all the packs. Trust me, all those huge packs are safety roped and backed off the water. It would not be a good headline…”Sports Illustrated Photographer Electrocutes Entire US Water Polo Team.”
Shot the pix with a Nikon RS camera, an underwater SLR that they, sadly, no longer make. I loved that camera, despite its tendency to flood. Great array of lenses, and for an underwater rig, eminently focus-able and handy. I’d wait underwater with two or three bodies, and the water polo ladies would confer up top about what to try, and then just all jump in. It was awesome, kind of like being depth charged with beautiful, athletic women. Below is my favorite frame of the take, albeit not really a storytelling, publishable image. A shot like this just goes away in the rush to publish a weekly, but it has a certain randomness I’ve always enjoyed.